Pakistan: ICJ urges Government not to extend oppressive counter-terrorism law

by | Jun 30, 2016 | News

The Pakistani Government should not extend the oppressive and ineffective Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA), which is set to expire on 15 July 2016, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today.

POPA was enacted in July 2014 for a period of two years to combat “waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan” and to provide “speedy trial” for offences “threatening the security of Pakistan”.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Interior confirmed that it planned to renew POPA for another two years.

“In these two years, not one suspect has been convicted under POPA, so we can conclude that the law doesn’t really protect people in Pakistan from terrorism and other violent acts, but instead it undermines their basic human rights protections,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director.

“The Government’s plan to renew this hastily drafted law is a classic case of supposedly ‘temporary’ departures from normal legal processes and human rights protections on the basis of ‘exceptional” circumstances’ becoming a permanent part of the legal system.”

In a statement issued shortly after the Protection of Pakistan Act was enacted, the ICJ warned that POPA gives military and law enforcement authorities sweeping powers to detain individuals in contravention of Pakistan’s international human rights law obligations.

The law allows prolonged preventive administrative detention without adequate safeguards; retrospectively authorizes otherwise arbitrary or unlawful arrests or detentions; authorizes secret and unacknowledged detention; and gives law enforcement agencies broad powers to “shoot at sight”.

In addition, the law creates “special courts” to try scheduled offences under the Act. Procedures for the operation of these “special courts” allow for secret hearings and do not meet international standards for fair and public criminal proceedings before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

According to Government officials, the Ministry of Interior has cleared “hundreds of cases of peace disrupting elements” for trial before the “special courts” constituted under POPA.

The five “special courts” remained non-functional for many months because of lack of staff and other facilities. The courts are now functional, but have so far not concluded a single trial.

“POPA is not only an oppressive law, it has also proven to be completely ineffective,” added Zarifi. “Instead of renewing the law, the Government should focus on strengthening the existing criminal justice system, which is suffering because of years of neglect.”

Political groups, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have alleged that the unfettered powers given to civilian and military law enforcement agencies under POPA are being used to target their workers for political activity and association. They say the law has been used to arbitrarily detain dozens of their activists.

“Pakistan faces a genuine threat from militant groups engaging in acts of terrorism, and the Pakistani Government has an obligation to protect all people from such attacks,” said Zarifi. “International law gives governments reasonable flexibility to combat terrorism, without contravening human rights obligations, and claims of ‘threats to national security’ can never be used as a justification for the practice of extrajudicial killings, secret detention, and enforced disappearance.”

The ICJ urges the Pakistani authorities not to extend POPA.

It further calls on the authorities to review all national security legislation to ensure it is fully compatible with international human rights law and standards.

Contact:

Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (London), t: +44 7889565691; e: reema.omer(a)icj.org

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